Courts need options for domestic violence, says P.E.I. judge

Dave Stewart
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Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee, foreground, says all members of the city council and all city staff receive training on domestic violence issues. Lee appeared with Charlottetown Police Services Chief Paul Smith before the standing committee on health, social development and seniors in the issue of domestic violence in Charlottetown on Wednesday.

Provincial Court Judge Jeff Lantz says if more options were available in the legal system for cases of domestic violence, more victims might be willing to come forward.

Lantz, a judge based in Summerside, testified Wednesday in Charlottetown before the standing committee on health, social development and seniors regarding family violence. It is rare for a sitting provincial court judge to testify in front of a legislative committee.

“If there were (more) domestic treatment options in court, more people might come forward,’’ Lantz said, building on a theme raised earlier in the day by representatives from the Advisory Council on the Status of Women.

They referred to things like therapeutic jurisprudence where specialized courts take a problem-solving approach to justice, unlike the current court system which hands out punishment.

These specialized courts, which exist in other parts of Canada, consider social and personal issues — such as poverty, addiction, mental illness and abuse — underlying or causing a person’s criminal behaviour.

Saskatchewan, for example, has court systems dedicated to domestic violence and drug treatment.

Lantz says he understands why more resources haven’t been committed to domestic violence.

“I know where they’re coming from,’’ he said, referring to the provincial government. “They’re stretched enough as it is.’’

Lantz said he does the best job he can when it comes to sentencing and handing out probation, even admitting once, that sometimes, the law isn’t fair.

Charlottetown Mayor Clifford Lee also testified on Wednesday, speaking how the violent death of Debbie Holmes in 2001 at the hands of her ex-husband inspired him to create the mayor’s purple ribbon task force on family violence.

“It shook me to the core. I couldn’t get it out of my mind,’’ Lee said.

Now, all members of city council and all city staff receive training on domestic violence issues. Liberal MLA Richard Brown picked up on that, saying provincial MLAs and employees could use the same training.

Lee said police in Charlottetown are responding to more domestic violence calls over the past three years - in 2011 city police responded to 148 calls; 19 charges were laid from those calls.

In 2012 police responded to 335 calls; 31 charges resulted.

In 2013 police responded to 340 calls; 33 charges resulted.

Lee said only 22 per cent of all incidents are reported to police which means the actual numbers are much higher than what he indicated.

When MLA Colin LaVie asked the mayor if there was anything government could do better, Lee said domestic violence is something that requires a lot of attention.

Lee said when he used to work for the old department of health and social services “no one even looked at social services. It was always doctors and nurses’’.

Jane Ledwell and Michelle Jay, executive director and program co-ordinator, respectively, of the Advisory Council on the Status of Women, said that while the law tries to punish the offenders victims need better access to help with things like legal aid and affordable housing when they leave violent situations.

“We’re forcing people to choose between violence and poverty,’’ Ledwell said.

dstewart@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/DveStewart

Organizations: Advisory Council on the Status of Women.They

Geographic location: Charlottetown, Summerside, Canada Saskatchewan

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Recent comments

  • Fix the addiction problem
    March 13, 2014 - 15:45

    If we invest in addiction services, the cases of violence will be reduced. It is no coincidence that the number of violence cases has risen at the same rate as the drug epidemic.

  • Iwonder
    March 13, 2014 - 13:09

    I wonder if Mayor Clifford Lee, Police Services Chief Paul Smith, and all city staff receive who get training on domestic violence issues are reading these comments. If they are, do they realize all previous comments, by both male and female posters, are saying the same thing? (different words perhaps, but the same message).

  • Summerside Resident
    March 13, 2014 - 08:48

    This is a very serious situation. Abusers should be sentenced appropriately and the victim(s) should have access to legal aid and housing. Until the Government takes a hard stand on this the situation will not improve. Why take a chance on another Holmes case. There have been others and when I look back at them, just maybe some of them could have been prevented. The stats show, 675 calls and 64 people arrested, something very wrong with these stats. Police are trained to lay charges in all cases when possible, they do NOT need a victims statement, this is law. If Judge Lantz has a concern about sentencing than lobby Government and have it changed. Overall this is Ghiz's problem and Government should take a proactive approach, take the lead and get this done. If there is a problem with resources in terms of victims than fix it. Anyone living on PEI is well aware of the money wasted over the last few years. Until this unfortunate event happens again and someone else is killed or seriously injured this all falls to deaf ears.

  • Want equal rights
    March 13, 2014 - 07:50

    I agree for protection and been heard what ever the gender and I am a women but in all stories I have heard and witness here on the island is who ever gets to the Police station or Social Services first they are the ones heard regardless if they are lying or whatever and using their children to back their lies and" in my opinion" they the ones who are in charge are lazy at their jobs and listen and write whatever they are told and do no research and many a good person is destroyed by this miss justice and it is long over due for equal rights. In the pass women did not get used fairly but now" in my opinion" they have more rights then men and in some circumstances are abusing the system for their own benefit and are getting away with this and it is wrong but what can men do when they are not heard and have police and social services not listening to anything only to what they are been told by one side and this" in my opinion" is not right and I think it is time to open our eyes and see what is happening we all hate hearing about abuse and feel awful to hear of women and children be hurt but what about the hundreds of men that are been hurt too and no one seems to care as everyone seems to think men can defend for themselves and this is so wrong. Men on this island are losing their homes, children and everything because no one is listening to them because as I said before "in my opinion" women and children now have all the rights and know how to use this to their advantage. I am not saying all women are just some like anything else there is some in this world who abuse everything that is there to help honest people.

  • Peter
    March 13, 2014 - 06:56

    I noticed Debbie Holmes name was mentioned, but not Trish Hennessey and her four-year-old son Nash Campbell. Unless and until they actually deal with domestic violence, (regardless of the perpetrator's gender) instead of just "violence against women", the problem will never be solved.

  • Islander
    March 13, 2014 - 06:41

    When we hear of family violence it seems in my opinion that all we ever hear is for protection for women and children when there is believe it or not many a man that is a victim to abuse but their side is never heard anymore and a lot of men have just given up as all rights now it seems to me are set in place to protect women and children and a man coming forward does not have any rights. I hear and see it all the time here on the island and think both female and male should have the same rights but men in my opinion are never heard anymore and women and children can say or do anything and the law it seems protects them .

  • Raised in pei
    March 12, 2014 - 23:06

    Things need to change!!!! If one steps up maybe that's one that's not being abused!!!